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A is for anger. And also anxiety.

**Disclaimer: The below blog is probably one of my most vulnerable ones to date. But, I think it is worth it. Perhaps someone reading this will feel a little less alone or find the courage to reach out for help. When we share our stories and silence our shame, we encourage others to do the same and if there is one thing I wish for you all, it is that you carry less shame.**

I remember the first time I really lost it on my kids. I’m not talking about getting a bit snappy with them, yelling a little, or having a ‘mommy meltdown’, I’m talking about full blown RAGE. The kind of anger that overtakes you like a tsunami, taking your breath away and leaving you gasping, sobbing, and absolutely exhausted. It was, of course, completely undeserved and although I tried to repair the damage I had done through apologies and gentle hugs, the guilt and shame I felt that day rocked me to my core. I chalked it up to a bad day and tried to carry on but then, it happened again.

Although thankfully not common, these anger outbursts occurred sporadically over the years and each time, I was left feeling more guilty, more exhausted, and more confused than the time before. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I mean, yes, each time there was some sort of trigger or stressor but they were always minor, nothing warranting a blowup of that magnitude. And stranger yet, it always seemed to come out of nowhere. Just like a tsunami, the wave would strike out of the blue and we (myself included) all just had to hold on to whatever we could and wait for it to pass. In those moments, I felt completely out of control.

Jekyll and Hyde.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that I finally began to gain some insight into these bursts of rage and was able to start to heal things a little bit. I was sitting in my counselor’s office, unpacking my shame around having put my children through yet another outburst when my counselor gently interrupted me, “Christine, when this happens, you aren’t a monster or a terrible mother. You are having a panic attack.”

I burst into tears.

As she went on to explain the correlation between anger, anxiety, and trauma, I found myself relieved, scared, and confused all at once. I knew that I had struggled with anxiety for much of my life and I considered myself fairly well-versed in mental illness. I had plenty of friends in the field, had access to lots of resources and mental health professionals, and had even taken psychology courses in college, yet I had been completely oblivious to the fact that bouts of rage could be a symptom of unmanaged anxiety and trauma. In fact, prior to that appointment, I would have told you that although I struggled with anxiety, I was lucky enough to have never experienced a panic attack. I thought that panic attacks were the classic heart-racing, clammy, hyperventilating that you see portrayed in movies and on tv. I had no idea anger could be present.

Realizing that I was not just a terrible mother allowed me to let go of some of the shame I had been carrying. But it also empowered me. Through therapy, meditation, and at some points, medication, I have learned the cues my body gives me to let me know I am on edge (turns out, there are a lot of signs). I have learned what is happening in my brain in those moments of panic (fight, flight, freeze), and the steps I can take to try to intercept it. I have learned the importance of decompressing, knowing my limits, and taking space when I need it. I have learned to tune in, even when it is uncomfortable, and to communicate with my family when I am struggling. I am now able to offer myself some grace and compassion while also holding myself accountable for managing my anxiety disorder.

If I were to guess, I would bet that anxiety will always be a part of my story. But now, I get to choose how it gets written. And I want my story to be one of vulnerability, healing, and hope. I can’t take back any of the mistakes I made in the past but if my kids learn anything from me, I want it to be that we are not defined by our mistakes … we are defined by what we choose to do with them. I want them to know that we may not be able to choose all that afflicts us, but we can choose how we manage it.

life, motherhood

My little piece of mom shame

Oooooh, boy! This blog is already not easy to write (You know it is going to be hard when the first five words give you grief).

But, I NEED to write this blog. I need to write it for me, and all of the other mamas in similar positions. I am tired of feeling ashamed. Shame is something that I have spoken about on stage. About how it tricks us, lies to us, and how the best way to silence shame is to SPEAK it (thank you, Brene Brown). So, in an effort to kick my shame to the curb, here goes nothing ….

My kids don’t live with me. There, I said it.

They live full time with their father and I see them every second weekend and half of all holidays.

Even writing it makes me queasy.

Like most moms, I love nothing more than to gush and brag about my kids to coworkers or acquaintances but whenever the topic of where my children live comes up, it hits me like a punch to the gut. And I tend to avoid the subject at all costs.

It happens more than you might think, usually coming up around schooling …

What grades are your kids in? Oh, that’s nice! What school do they go to?

That’s when I start nervously rambling. “They actually go to school in Castlegar, they live with their Dad.” (note: Castlegar is four hours away from my home in Kelowna, BC)

And cue the inquisitive head tilt, “Ohhhhhh …” in a slightly higher than average pitch. You can literally feel their curiosity.

And of course they are curious. I don’t blame them. In all honesty, it is a bit different than what people are used to. Although the idea of ‘normal’ within a family construct is thankfully broadening, it is still fairly uncommon for children of separated families to not reside with their mother, at least half of the time … unless there is something wrong.

Why don’t the kids live with her? Did she lose custody? Did she not want them? Did they not want to live with her?

Now whether those questions are actually what people are wondering when it comes up, I don’t know? But what I DO know is that the reason I avoid these conversations or worry about judgements is because I judge myself.

I grapple daily with whether I made the right decision or not. I constantly struggle with guilt and wonder how my children will view my choices later. And there is a huge part of me that questions if I am a good mother or not.

The irony is, if I were a dad, this would not be an issue. Not for society and not for me. Sure, I would miss my kids terribly, but I would see them every second weekend and get pats on the back for doing so. I would likely be praised for my devotion to fatherhood, and receive support and empathy when telling people about my parenting arrangement.

But I am not a dad. I am a mama. And kids need their mama.

Right?

Well, of course. But here is the thing, my kids still have a mama. I might be 4 hours away but we have a great relationship, we speak every day, and I am there when they need me. I get the phone calls about school stuff, the midday texts with questions or stories, and the early morning skypes to show off their birthday haul or what the Easter bunny brought.

I think I will always worry if we made the right choice, if we could or should have done it differently, or if my boys will resent me at the end of it all. And the thing is, they might. But that risk would also be there if we remained a nuclear family too. Maybe more so if that nuclear family was an unhappy one.

In the coming years, I know my kids will likely look back on their childhood and have feedback that I might find hard to hear. Most kids do. But I hope that it is less about which loving home they lived in as children, and more about how I was always nagging them to get off their phones and go outside, or that time I tried to give them a haircut during a pandemic quarantine.

I trust that my kids know how much I love and miss them, that they feel heard, and that they feel comfortable talking with me about anything (including this) at any time.

For now, I am going to try to shelve the self-judgement, and the shame. I have better things to do with all of that energy, such as put it towards my kids. And I’m not going to avoid the questions or the topic anymore. I feel confident that my kids are in a great situation. They have three parents that adore them, two safe and loving homes, and extended families and friends to support them. Has it been perfect? No. But perfect doesn’t exist. Not in nuclear families, or blended families, or even in separated families where the kids primarily live with mama.